Jimmy White, president of the Big Lake Sportsman Association, presided at a public meeting at the Manila Airport/Community Center. White called the meeting to update area sportsmen of the Aug. 28 Administrative Order 03-01 of the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission, allowing access to Big Lake, St. Francis Sunken Lands and Dave Donaldson/Black River Wildlife Management Areas to maintain duck blinds.
"I appreciate everyone that is here. "I" haven't done anything," White said. "I feel fortunate to be part of a group that has worked to allow us to continue to duck hunt as we have in the past. I think we will be able to continue in the future."
White recognized representatives that have been very helpful in the cause including Steve Bryles, Marvin Childers, Tim Woodridge, Travis Boyd, Kevin Goss and Wayne Nichols.
White also praised the committee members that have worked with the Game and Fish Commission. They are Nelson Benson, Manila, George Dunkin, Blytheville, Todd Edwards, Leachville, Jim Nowlin, Blytheville, Brent Ballow, Mt. Pleasant, Barry Wood, Trumann, Bobby Benson, Trumann, Jack Cox, Paragould, Voy Gillentine, Osceola, Jimmy McDonald, Marked Tree, and Dean Tucker, Marked Tree.
"They have spent a lot of time and gone a lot of miles. We appreciate everything they have done," White said.
He also thanked Mississippi County Judge Steve McGuire for his support.
"On e year ago we met right here. We had 1,479 signatures on a petition that I hand delivered to Governor Huckabee," White said. "It was a little belated, but we got assistance. We were able to hunt the blinds last year. We are still here and in good shape."
White said Scott Henderson of Newport is the new director for the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission.
"He signed Administrative Order 03-01 on Aug. 28, telling us what we can and cannot do with the duck blinds this year," White explained.
He went over the Administrative order that said sportsmen in possession of a Wildlife Management Area Maintenance Permit may access Big Lake, St. Francis Sunken Lands and Dave Donaldson/Black River Wildlife Management Areas from Sept. 19 through Sept. 28 in order to maintain duck blinds, waterfowl hunting holds and boat lanes during daylight hours only.
Permits are free and may be picked up at the North East Arkansas Regional office beginning Tuesday, Sept. 2, during regular business hours, 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., and at area headquarters from 8 a.m. until noon Sept. 19 through Sept. 28.
The following will be permitted:
1. ATVs (3 wheelers, 4 wheelers, or 6 wheelers) on existing woods roads and boat lanes (small trailers may be pulled by ATVs to haul blind material.
2. Gasoline powered weed trimmers for maintenance of existing holes.
3. Chainsaws for clearing downed timber blocking boat lanes and waterways.
4. Materials for maintaining and brushing existing blinds.
The following will NOT be permitted:
1. Tractors, bush hogs, discs or other implements.
2 Pick up trucks or other passenger vehicles.
3. Plantings of food plots or cultivation.
5. Removal of trees within existing holes.
White introduced Game and Fish employees Kent Wagner of Big Lake and Bob Rice of St. Francis. Paul Provine of Dave Donaldson/Black River, was not present.
"These guys will have the permits," White said.
White stressed to the sportsmen the importance of following the guidelines.
"Don't put Kent and the other men in bad positions," White said. "Don't start cutting trees. If it is not down, leave it alone. I think not planting food plots is foolish as it would benefit the deer hunters but we can't. Let's abide by the rules. Remember last year we couldn't even carry in a pocket knife. We are making progress."
Rice had a copy of the permit and reviewed the contents with the approximate 150 in attendance. He said there were some things that they had to get clear. Rice said he and Wagner were attending a meeting on Friday and they would know more about it afterwards.
Rice said he has not seen the problem that he hears is going on such as people being kicked out of blinds.
"A lot of that comes form the south Arkansas where they can't have blinds," Rice said.
White asked those present to consider strongly not referring to the duck blinds as "my blind" or "our blind."
"I know that is difficult when you have hunted the same place for 50 years. When I'm asked where I hunt, I am going to try to refer to the blind's number and location. It is a sore spot when we refer to our hunting places as my blind.
"One of the last things that was said by the Game and Fish Commissioners at the last meeting has to do with St. Francis WMA. They said they will vote on September to have all of the area go with a noon deadline for hunting. There is 700 acres owned by Hatchacoon Club, a private hunting club, in the middle of the WMA and if that passes, it will take away a half of day of their hunting," White said.
White asked if everyone was basically satisfied with the report.
The group talked about changing appointed Arkansas Game and Fish Commissioners to elected positions.
White explained that if the commission goes form an appointed to elected position, it would go from seven to and eight member commission with two elected from each congressional district. Terms would be limited and they would receive the same pay scale as legislatures. To get this on the ballot, it takes signatures, White said.
Concerning the question of continuing with the ruling of Constitution Amendment 35 which provides that Game & Fish Commissions are appointed by the Governor, White asked if the membership wished to pursue a petition drive to change Amendment 35 from the appointment procedure to provide for election of the Game & Fish Commissioners.
"We have 75 counties in Arkansas and it will take 75,000 signatures to get it on the ballot to see if the people want to elect commissioners. With help, we can get the signatures if that is what you all want to do," he said.
White said he had a computer program set up and names and addresses will be needed for people in all counties that will be willing to go out and gather signatures.
The question was asked if White thought the organization would have to lobby every year to be able to maintain the duck blinds.
"I don't think so, I would like to have an official survey of the use. We took an unofficial survey last year at Big Lake and on the busiest day only one third of the blinds were being hunted. I think the Game and Fish Commission needs to know. As I told them 27,000 hunting opportunities will be lost if the blinds are moved.